Monday, April 28, 2014

The Emotionally Resilient Expat

There are lots of books out there about expats and how to best deal with expat life and the challenges it brings. I read many of them, but I find that usually I cannot relate for one reason or another. Perhaps because I did not move with a travelling spouse or the fact that  I do not have children and face the special problems that that brings with it. The Emotionally Resilient Expat by Linda Janssen was the exception.
Occasionally when I read a book I may find one sentence, one phrase that sticks in my mind. This book is jam packed with words which resonated deeply with me and made me stop and think. It is a combination of extensive research (I think Janssen must have read every book and academic paper on the subject), her own personal experiences and experiences of many other expats as they candidly reveal their innermost feelings to different situations. It is raw and honest and I could not read it without stirring up my emotions, some of which have been buried for over a decade.

Here are just a few of the phrases which made me stop in my tracks and give me that “Oh My God” moment.

The book deals with culture shock and the whole subject of where is home:

“For you, my child, I wish you two things: to give you roots and give you wings.”

I think all expats have the wings, it can just be a little hard sometimes to work out where the roots are or how we feel when we are uprooted. Where is home?

When it comes to cultural differences, once again, reading this book affirms my beliefs but at the same time makes me think.

“A pre-requisite to be part of the culture you live in is to bond with it and not reject it when you see something you don’t like or feel doesn’t fit in with your values. By rejecting it the only one you isolate is you.”

It isn't easy all the time to bond with the culture of the Dominican Republic, but I know it is only when you do bond that you really reap the rewards, and once again Janssen realises this as she quotes a contributor:

“I have learned compassion and tolerance. I have learned patience and being non judgmental.”

She talks about blogging as well and made me realise that my blog is not just for me but for others:

“Most people dream about living in a foreign land, but it remains that, a dream. We owe it to them to show them a world they might not get to experience otherwise.”

The book has a logical structure and slowly everything is pulled together to culminate in a series of very practical tips to ensure emotional resilience and to get the very most out of every day. When you finish it you cannot help but feel more positive and uplifted. You can choose to be optimistic – one of the great attractions of Dominicans:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

I just loved this book. It is not one to be read at one sitting but every time you pick it up you learn more about yourself, you gain affirmation about how you coped in the past and how you are coping now. And most of all you feel your emotional resilience getting stronger to enable you to cope with whatever the expat life can throw at you. This book is not a ‘nice to have’ it is simply a definite ‘must have’ for every single expat.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Easter with Chivirico

Chivirico came to stay with us for Easter week, which is an excuse for a massive party here in the DR. As soon as he arrived all of his games came out - his computer, bubble gum machine, lego and a new puzzle. He really is excellent at puzzles and once done we are not allowed to move them!

Then the serious Easter business began and he asked me to cook habichuelas con dulce which is Dominican Easter fare traditionally made on Good Friday. My husband said that I couldn't make them as only Dominican women could as it was a cultural thing handed down through generations. I pointed out that I could cook them from a recipe from a Dominican cookery book - he scoffed at the idea.

Stage 1 was to find the recipe so I went straight to Aunt Clara's Dominican Cookery book and found the recipe here. Then off we went to buy all the ingredients. I didn't have to tell Chivirico at all as he just marched around the supermarket telling me what we needed - Carnation milk, beans, cloves, cinnamon, coconut milk, sweet potatoes and of course the little biscuits to go on the top.

Friday morning arrived and I started cooking, ably assisted by Chivirico who informed me that the recipe was correct and just like his grandmother cooked them.

Finally they were ready and it was time to see how they tasted. Well, surprise surprise both Danilo and Chivirico said they were perfect.

So not only Dominicans can cook habichuelas con dulce - Brits can do it too thanks to Aunt Clara and Chivirico.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Food glorious food

We eat mainly Dominican food but every so often but I go through a phase when I can’t stand the sight of yet another plantain, or any more rice and beans and I become determined to cook something I really fancy. I can never tell what will come into my head and dominate every waking moment until I manage to cook it, and it doesn't help that I love watching cooking programmes on the television which is pure torture as I just can’t buy most of the ingredients here.

Last week I couldn't stop thinking about Beef Bourguignon. Every waking hour it was all I could think of with delicious creamy Dauphinois Potatoes and broccoli. I searched the web and came across Jamie Oliver’s recipe here. Easy. I went through all of the ingredients and I had most but no bacon. The nearest place to buy bacon here is two hours away. I had a look to see if I could make bacon but it seems like a very long process and you need stuff to cure the pork which I don’t have and it has to hang in the garden shed for two weeks. Apart from the fact I don’t have a shed – just a hen house – there was no way I was going to wait two weeks. Instead I used a smoked pork chop which you can buy here easily and cut it into slivers. It sort of looked like bacon. For the potatoes you need cream and I had no cream and again you can’t buy it nearby. I looked at “How to make cream” recipes which again looked difficult so I changed the potato recipe and did boulangere potatoes instead which have vegetable stock instead of cream – I had to make the vegetable stock from scratch mind.

Anyway it was delicious and well worth it.

It did not satisfy my craving for different food though so a couple of days later I made a quiche. That was easy enough as well and I used Delia Smith’s recipe here. I had to do a fair bit of substitution as no lard, no bacon, no double cream and she said you need to use one of those spring form tins which you can open at the side to get the quiche out. I don’t have one so I used my good old Dominican Pyrex pie dish.
Guess what – my Dominican pie dish transformed itself brilliantly into Delia’s spring form dish by splitting in half in the oven just as the quiche was cooked – all I had to do was scoop the quiche onto a plate. Dominican Pyrex always shatters sooner or later – you can never tell when it will happen though.

I was now on a roll to keep on cooking food I had been craving.
So I went shopping a few days ago and look what I found.

I have been longing for Blackberry and Apple Crumble and cream for years and years. Again no cream, but I bought ice cream instead. It was absolutely lovely and even the Dominicans liked it.

Certainly a change from chicken foot soup!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Yet another Canadian visitor

I have been corresponding with a Canadian gentleman who was planning on visiting the country and he came to stay with us this week. When he arrived in the country he bought himself a mean machine which is now parked in my living room. Dominicans always park their motorbikes inside the house.

I sent him directions to get here, but he said not to worry as he had GPS. Not sure I would trust that here but he seemed unconcerned. An hour before he was due to arrive he phoned to say he was lost. He knew the name of the town he was in, but couldn't find his way to the next town. I explained and the phone call ended. Thirty minutes later he phones again. As you can see, his bike has big saddlebags on the back, and he called to tell me a lorry had hit one of them from behind, knocked him off the bike and then the lorry had run into the car in front. He had to go to the police station so asked me where it was and I told him. Danilo then called a friend in the town where he was and sent him to the police station to translate. The friend called and Canadian was nowhere to be seen. I called Canadian who confirmed he was at the police station and friend on the other line confirmed he wasn't. The situation was resolved by speaking to a policeman who said yes Canadian was there and no it was not the police station in the town Canadian thought he was in.....he was in fact in a totally different town which was why he had been unable to follow my directions! All was satisfactorily sorted out by Danilo who went to the police station and resolved everything and sent Canadian to our house with a Dominican on the back of the bike to shout in his ear telling him where to go. Much better than a GPS.

Since he has been here I have taken him out and about a little to see the area, including this beautiful river which is the one I went to with Chivirico and his family a while ago. The one that took hours and hours to get to which I now find out is only 30 minutes away from us!

The countryside around us is stunning, and so clean with such respect for the environment. However we drove only a couple of minutes from the river and came across this.

At times like this I really wish I was a decent photographer. Just behind us was a beautiful clean river. In the background are lovely mountains. But we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of an enormous rubbish dump which had been set on fire so there were mounds of smouldering plastic everywhere and an appalling stink. And centre stage was a herd of cows, feeding off whatever goodies they could find. An incredible sight.

We carried on driving down the back roads through tiny hamlets and up and down hills and we came across a settlement of around 30 wooden houses. There was also a school and I explained how attendance at school, instead of being a half day was now all day - in some schools anyway. This is obviously proving to be a tad too much for the poor teachers as the kids were playing in the playground and the teacher was fast asleep in front of the school. Playground supervision Dominican style.

Once again the Dominican Republic can't help but make you smile.